Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 67, Issue 1, pp 19–46 | Cite as

From Biological Determination to Entangled Causation

  • Davide VecchiEmail author
  • Paul-Antoine Miquel
  • Isaac Hernández
Regular Article


Biologists and philosophers often use the language of determination in order to describe the nature of developmental phenomena. Accounts in terms of determination have often been reductionist. One common idea is that DNA is supposed to play a special explanatory role in developmental explanations, namely, that DNA is a developmental determinant. In this article we try to make sense of determination claims in developmental biology. Adopting a manipulationist approach, we shall first argue that the notion of developmental determinant is causal. We suggest that two different theses concerning developmental determination can be articulated: determination of occurrence and structural determination. We shall argue that, while the first thesis is problematic, the second, opportunely qualified, is feasible. Finally, we shall argue that an analysis of biological causation in terms of determination cannot account for entangled dynamics. Characterising causal entanglement as a particular kind of interactive causation whereby difference-making causes ascribable to different levels of biological organisation influence a particular ontogenetic outcome, we shall, via two illustrative examples, diagnose some potential limits of a reductionist, molecular and intra-level understanding of biological causation.


Developmental causation Developmental determinant Manipulationism Biological determination Causal entanglement Biological reductionism 



D.V. acknowledges the financial support of the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT Grant No. SFRH/BPD/99879/2014, BIODECON R&D Project. Grant PTDC/IVC-HFC/1817/2014) and of the Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Científico y Tecnológico de Chile (Grant No. 1171017 FONDECYT REGULAR). We thank Lorenzo Baravalle, Maurizio Esposito, Gil Santos and the reviewers for feedback.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Davide Vecchi
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Paul-Antoine Miquel
    • 3
  • Isaac Hernández
    • 3
  1. 1.Centro de Filosofia das Ciências, Departamento de História e Filosofia das Ciências, Faculdade de CiênciasUniversidade de LisboaLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.Departamento de Filosofía, Facultad de HumanidadesUniversidad de Santiago de ChileSantiagoChile
  3. 3.Laboratoire ERRAPHIS, PhSciViUniversité Toulouse Jean JaurèsToulouse Cedex 9France

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